In the titular track to their debut album b?, an album that has been in the works for more than four years for the Houston-based pop duo, HOAX sings:
And that’s what the sonic soundscape of their album sounds like. It’s dreamy, buzzing with indie-pop and rock elements reminiscent of early 2010s indie bands with concepts exploring the essence of “being.” The 17-track project began with the creative minds of Michael Raj and Frantz Cesar as they began to write about what they viewed of the world — the human condition, pain, suffering, growth and commentary on social constructs, all told beneath their intricate pop melodies.
Heavily influenced by sounds of 60’s surf pop, 70’s Motown and alternative R&B, their “empathy pop” music can be described as “the beautiful sound of sadness,” as a close friend described. Their long-awaited album gives us just that — songs that feel nostalgic, sweet, to angsty and rebellious.
Michael Raj’s meditative lyrics and oft times crooning vocals pull you in.
In the opening track “trees”, he reflects:
It’s a song that opens with dreamy ambient noises and keys to a stripped down acoustic guitar that feel like an open diary letter from Raj himself. As the drums pick up and ambient keys enter, it feels like we’re entering a sonic journey of escaping the common humdrums and drolls of life. We reflect with Raj on the pain and suffering we feel, to find that we are just on our own all along, finding “somewhere we belong” but we are all just “still coming along” — the inescapable question of life.
On Instagram, HOAX writes: “I was 24 when we began working on this project. I am 28, and I think the biggest myth to permeate through my psyche is that as time goes on, the more the world makes sense. It in fact does not. It is random, it is chaotic, and at the lowest it feels personally cruel, and unrelentingly lonely.”
He continues: “I have searched for so long… And then as life unravels you become lost, and you don’t know what you are doing, or what you ever was. But then you sit with yourself, and you realize that even though life is random, chaotic, cruel and lonely it is also full of choices, there are moments of euphoric clarity where everything is beautiful and nothing hurts, there are these minutes of joy where you look over at someone with so much of a smile – it almost makes you cry how much you care for them, and there are people who text you just cause you were thinking of them.”
And that’s the beautiful sentiment that I feel this album encapsulates. It’s a journey. It’s a personal, spiritual, and emotional journey of finding meaning in life as we search, explore, and look for meaning only to come back to your own. Sometimes that meaning comes through the gentle moments you share with another, or in the moments you felt truly present, in yourself, mind, body and soul (like in their sweet song “soju” reflecting on these present moments you share with someone).
Songs like “unconditional” and “more than you know” are standout tracks for myself, as they are spectacularly produced, with a groovy, catchy and bouncy bass line in “unconditional” and guitar strums that make you want to sway to their sweet ode to embracing the moment as Raj sings, “We don’t care at all / We’re unconditional / Cause we might never know where this all goes.”
In “more than you know,” the chamber drums and punchy beats along with their romantic lullaby reminiscent of sounds of the 60’s, truly takes you to another place as Raj sings, “And when the stars fall from the sky, I will not run, I will not hide / Baby take hold, take my hand.”
“beach house ii,” a follow-up to their dreamy and sensual 2010 single “Beach House,” feels just like a warm summer breeze, just as the lyrics ensue.
This album is truly a sonic journey that meditates on so many themes and concepts of “being” in a way where HOAX has carved out their own sound, full of romance and heartbreak and pondering of life into pure euphoria — and for a debut, it’s incredible.
The best part is that I remember meeting these guys when I was just new to LA five years ago. I hopped onto a recording session with them as the two taught me the value of adding “sauce” to my guitar licks. To my unsure, wavering self, I had no idea what that meant — but that little tidbit has stayed with me all throughout — and I love to hear it on this album.